Tony Newman at 510-208-7711 x 1383 or Shayna Samuels at 212-547-6916
At a press conference today, President George W. Bush and new “Drug Czar” John Walters announced the reauthorization of the Drug-Free Community Support Program. This is despite the fact that billions of dollars have already been spent on this and other federal drug control programs, and drugs are cheaper, purer and more readily available than ever before.
“We need to stop wasting money on failed strategies,” said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of The Lindesmith Center – Drug Policy Foundation, a national drug policy reform organization. “Now is not the time to be throwing money away.”
“The traffic in drugs finances the work of terror,” claimed President Bush, as a way of explaining the increase in funding for old drug war programs.
Though there is speculation about Osama bin Laden’s profiting from the illegal heroin trade, Nadelmann points out that it is actually the black market, not the drug itself, that makes this connection possible.
“Terrorism should be prevented at all costs,” said Nadelmann. “But pumping more money into the drug war is not the way to go about it. In fact, it can only make things worse. The fact that Afganistan’s brutal Taliban regime have profited financially from the illegal heroin trade is a resounding indictment of the drug war.”
According to the United Nations, the illicit drug economy is estimated at $400 billion annually. “There is a clear historical precedent in alcohol prohibition,” said Nadelmann. “With alcohol prohibition repealed, liquor bootleggers no longer terrorize American cities with deadly turf battles, nor do consumers go blind drinking unregulated bathtub gin.”
“It is increasingly clear that the drug war is not just a failed policy. It’s a national security threat,” said Nadelmann. “Continuing to subsidize mobsters at home and terrorists abroad will not make America safer.”
Bush heralded the mid-80’s and early-90’s as a drug war success stories. However, this time period was marked by the crack cocaine epidemic and a rapid rise in HIV infections due to intravenous drug use.
Drug policy reform advocates point to the harm reduction policies being used in Europe as a cost-effective alternative to the $50 billion drug war. European Union countries have all but abandoned the zero-tolerance drug war in favor of harm reduction measures such as needle exchange programs to stop the spread of HIV; reality-based drug education; and a range of treatment alternatives that do not require incarceration as a prerequisite.